Grafton Green was born in Lebanon, Tennessee, the son of Nathan Green, Jr., who taught law for 63 years at Cumberland School of Law of Cumberland University and served as the law school's chancellor. His paternal grandfather, Nathan Green, Sr., had been a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court for 20 years.
Grafton Green earned an LL.B from Cumberland School of Law in 1893, being called to the bar that same year. He operated a law practice in Nashville until 1910, when he was elected to be an associate justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He was subsequently re-elected in 1918, 1926, 1934, and 1942. Green became the Chief Justice of Tennessee in 1923, serving until his death. As of 2011, he holds the record as the person who served the longest on Tennessee's highest court.
In 1927, Green presided over the appeal of John T. Scopes, who had been convicted of teaching evolution. The court found the law against teaching of evolution to be constitutional, but overturned Scopes' conviction on a technicality. Five years later, Green also presided over Evans v. McCabe, 52 S.W. 2d 159 (1932) which held that the state constitution prohibits personal income taxes on wages, but not on interest-bearing investments.
- Justices of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society
- John R. Vile (2003), Great American judges: an encyclopedia, Volume 1, page 310. ABC-CLIO.
- Jack W. Robinson, Sr., Tennessee Supreme Court Building: Stately Hall of Justice, The Chronicle: The Newsletter of the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, Fall 2010. Page 12.
- 154 Tenn. 105 (1927)